An Interesting Pulitzer

Eli Sanders at Seattle’s Stranger alt-weekly won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the aftermath of a brutal home invasion and attack. Sanders’ prize is the fifth awarded to an alt-weekly, and the first since 2007. I’m actually surprised that any alt-weeklies have ever won, not because of the quality of the journalism, but because the prize board is made up of incumbent media dinosaurs.

As far as I can tell, the only print media outlets that are doing well in the current “death of print” era are alt-weeklies. One reason is probably that they were already used to operating on a shoestring with a business model based on free distribution, and another is that they weren’t too proud to embrace digital early and sincerely. For example, the Stranger’s blog, Slog, is really good and has been for a long time.

48 replies
  1. 1
    gaz says:

    I’m so very proud of our little alt-weekly (the stranger).

    It’s a wonderful paper. =) It has been for years.

    Oh, and thanks for making Santorum synonymous with dookie and buttsecks, and for introducing me to The Streets (Mike Skinner) all those years ago. You guys rock (unlike Tipper)

  2. 2
    Wag says:

    I agree that alt-weeklies (Westword here in Denver) do a good job of reporting in depth on ignored lacal stories. The business model of lots of ads from adult oriented businesses makes the papers quite a bit of money by tapping into an ad market that the typical dailies can’t/won’t touch.

  3. 3
    jon says:

    The Tucson Weekly and its blog have more relevant news than Tucson’s Daily Star. The Star’s old rival, The Citizen, exists only online.

    Aside from sports and weather, the Star’s site is pretty useless. And I can find sports and weather elsewhere.

  4. 4
    Satanicpanic says:

    Ours is really good. Lots of stuff on the city, local politics, etc., plus some decent food/nightlife advice for people who aren’t fabulously wealthy. I can’t imagine what I would pick up the paper for these days.

  5. 5
    Cacti says:

    The best investigative reporting in AZ on Joe Arpaio, Andrew Thomas, and Paul Babeu has been from our alt-weekly, the Phoenix New Times.

  6. 6
    Linnaeus says:

    It’s an outstanding article. Read it if you get the chance.

  7. 7
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:


    I agree that alt-weeklies (Westword here in Denver) do a good job of reporting in depth on ignored local stories.

    Same here. The Weekly Alibi runs circles around the ABQ Journal when it comes to local coverage. I would have no idea what our City Council was doing if it weren’t for our alt-weekly paper. Ditto their coverage of anything that has to do with culture. The mainstream paper isn’t good for anything except lining hamster cages and starting fires in the fireplace.

  8. 8
    balconesfault says:

    The alt weeklies seem to allow reporters to run with researching and developing stories that the dailies just don’t want to bother with … either for budget reasons, or for fear of pissing off one set of advertisers or another just by doing the legwork, much less the publication.

    On the flip side, I remember when Robert Bryce was doing some good reporting for the local weekly down here. Now he’s with the Manhattan Institute, in a well-paid sinecure telling the world how awful renewable energy is. The kids grow up so quickly …

  9. 9
    Culture of Truth says:

    So I go to the link and on the right-hand side is an online ad for ‘bad idea’ t-shirts which make it look like the female model has been stabbed and is bleeding. I mean, really.

  10. 10
    Warmongerer says:

    Publicola (which was started by former Stranger reporters) is pretty good too. Heavy focus on local politics, public meetings, city halls, etc except without the dead-tree version.

  11. 11
    Mr Stagger Lee says:

    @jon: Same in Seattle with the P-I going online, that is true about The Stranger, the other one Seattle Weekly fired all their journalists and became more of an upscale entertainment rag. I quit reading the weekly when their film critics started acting like they were employed by Fox news. Damn that family(whose name I forgot) who bought the Weekly and turned it into shit!

  12. 12
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:


    or for fear of pissing off one set of advertisers or another just by doing the legwork, much less the publication

    The odd thing is that alt-weeklies are more dependent on advertising than conventional papers which charge a subscription to supplement their advertising revenue. I suspect that the alt-w’s operate under similar constraints in terms of pissing off their advertisting base. I think the difference lies more in that the advertisers are a rather different bunch from the businesses which advertise in the daily papers. The alt-weeklies have a lot more small local businesses and/or companies (e.g. the phone-sex vendors in the back pages of the weekly) who don’t have many other places to run their ads without ruffling feathers in the community (which means they are a captive base for the weekly, because where else are they going to go?). And so the businesses which are the advertising base for the alt-w’s don’t cross our political radar as often in terms of Evil Giant Corporations Behaving Badly.

  13. 13
    Emily says:

    Our household finds The Stranger’s voters’ guide especially helpful.

  14. 14
    Sloegin says:

    Apparently there isn’t a Pulitzer for stenography. Good on _The Stranger_ and Mr. Sanders.

  15. 15
    Cacti says:

    The New Times annual “Best of Phoenix” is also the local bible for dining and entertainment.

    The Arizona Republic has nothing that compares.

  16. 16
    balconesfault says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: They also tend to rely heavily on ads from the entertainment industry, who knows there’s a sizable portion of the 20-30 something population who don’t pick up a daily but will grab the freebie and look which bands are playing where, which clubs are having parties, etc.

    Those advertisers, by and large, couldn’t give a damn if some Chamber of Commerce type gets his ox gored. A lot of them are old hippies who are actually rooting for this outcome.

  17. 17
    Satanicpanic says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: A have a friend who used to be an ad rep at a local alt-weekly, he got stuck selling ads in one of the more tourist friendly regions. The hipster-run entertainment section would mock the area almost weekly, so he had a tough time selling ads. I’m happy to report they have maintained their hipsterness in the face of commercial pressure.

  18. 18
    Roger Moore says:

    I wonder if the advantage in terms of in-depth reporting isn’t because the alt weeklies are weekly instead of daily. It pushes them away from competing with TV news for the 24-hour news cycle so they have to find a different niche. The only obvious niches are weekly arts, leisure, and entertainment reporting (which is why they tend to come out on Thursdays), local stuff that slips through the cracks of the bigger outlets, and in-depth journalism.

  19. 19
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever found a crappy alt-weekly in any decent sized metro area.

    Now, the ones that operate in places with around 100K population, different story. They’re always about entertainment and nightlife.

    Like mistermix, I’m shocked that alt-weeklies get Pulitzers given that poster children for Village Idiocy like the Wanker of the Decade, Jim Fucking Vandehei and Paul Gigot are on the board.

  20. 20
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    Not all the alt-weekies did well. There’s two in SF: the SF weekly is doing OK, but the Bay Guardian really struggled from losing the classified ads and the personals to Craigslist.

  21. 21
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    I should add one of the best examples of what an alt-weekly can do:


    Of course Little Napoleon tried to sue the paper for slander.

    The Washington (com)Post wouldn’t have come close writing anything like this.

  22. 22
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    That fits what I’ve observed over the years. I think an advantage that the alt-weeklies enjoy in terms of their business model is that they enjoy an effective monopoly in their market in terms of coverage of the topics they do well, e.g. local urban culture and entertainment. The daily papers are so bad that there really isn’t anywhere else for advertisers in these niches to go to find the customers who are interested in their services.
    Where the effective monopoly breaks down a bit is that at least in my market there is a segmentation, with the main alt-weekly being pretty much the same as the half a dozen other urban weekly papers I’ve consumed in different towns over the years, but there are also 2-4 (it varies by year as publications come and go) other alt-weekly papers which are focused on just food and higher priced entertainment, and are noticeably more upscale and clean-cut (i.e. no phone-sex ads) in their advertising. So you see these papers in professional settings like say a doctor’s office, where you typically wouldn’t find the main alt-weekly. So there is some competition for the upscale culture vulture market. I don’t know if this is typical for most urban markets in the US or not.
    What is the rural alt-press like? Does anybody have a non-urban comparison to make?

  23. 23

    That’s a good point about how odd the result is, given the composition of selectors. And an excellent choice, for which they deserve props.

    I’m still pissed at them about the fiction prize however. It’s bad enough not to award it, but to do so when DFW was a finalist is shameful.

  24. 24
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:


    What is the rural alt-press like? Does anybody have a non-urban comparison to make?

    It’s hard to make comparisons because there’s no such thing as a rural alt-press. I’ll use Central Misery (where I live) as an example.

    Two years ago a small weekly entertainment newspaper sprung up and lasted about 18 months. Again, not really an alt-weekly.

    Many rural counties have a weekly county newspaper. Many will focus heavily on local news. For example, here in Osage County, the second reddest county in Misery, the weekly paper is The Unterrified Democrat. Yes, that’s its name. It’s run by two very terrifying Republicans. It goes to the bi-weekly Three Stooges meetings, aka the County Commissioners, and reports on the shenanigans there. Runs court reports, police blotter, sports, local town hall meetings, etc.

    But it’s all stenography, no investigative reporting per se. And given how the local paper owners are usually in bed with somebody they’re “reporting” on, don’t expect to get anything balanced.

    Head up the road a ways to Columbia, pop 100K and their alt-weekly isn’t, again, it’s an entertainment weekly, nothing close to something like the Riverfront Times east in St Louis.

  25. 25
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    @a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q):

    This from somebody on the panel:

  26. 26
    Ben Franklin says:


    One of the most poorly paid jobs I’ve ever had was also the most fun. It was a consortium of regional weeklies composed of 6 mastheads; the last of the Hearst Dynasty. They are more connected to local issues and get a lot of feedback from readers, most of it was positive.

    No Pulitzers, though.

  27. 27
    gaz says:

    @comrade scott’s agenda of rage: “It’s hard to make comparisons because there’s no such thing as a rural alt-press.”

    Depends on your definition of rural

    We have the echo and the argus in skagit and whatcom counties.

    Sadly, they both suck.

  28. 28
    catclub says:

    @Culture of Truth: Hey, I don’t even have to leave BJ to get that ad. Labor saving devices.

    I think it is (mostly) harmless.

  29. 29
    anadromy says:

    Having been laid off by an alt-weekly and having watched over the years as it has shed pages like a seven veils dancer and turned over almost all of its reporting to unpaid interns, I can assure you, alt-weeklies are eating just as much of the bad stuff as the dailies.

    That being said: The Stranger is a great paper and this is something to celebrate, no doubt!

  30. 30
    catclub says:

    @a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q): “I’m still pissed at them about the fiction prize however. It’s bad enough not to award it, but to do so when DFW was a finalist is shameful.”

    Well, Politifact was in the running for that category, so they decided to mostly truly (but not) make an award.

  31. 31
    bk says:

    @comrade scott’s agenda of rage:

    Then you apparently haven’t picked up a copy of Las Vegas Weekly. Weekly Seven, on the other hand, has some pretty good content.

  32. 32
    Cassidy says:

    Dumb question. I’ve always noticed that the alt weekly’s in major areas tend to be the same size, same general format, etc. is this just any industry standard or are a lot of these owned by a larger corporation?

  33. 33
    rb says:

    The Stranger series is extremely well done, but incredibly triggering and awful, describing a worst-nightmare violation of home and person. Steel yourself if you read.

  34. 34
    gex says:

    Local reporting with local viewpoints don’t hurt either. I can get the Village consensus through osmosis by simply being awake and alert on any given day. Getting some actually well thought out opinion and analysis is the main selling point of alt weeklies.

  35. 35
    Brachiator says:

    As far as I can tell, the only print media outlets that are doing well in the current “death of print” era are alt-weeklies. One reason is probably that they were already used to operating on a shoestring with a business model based on free distribution, and another is that they weren’t too proud to embrace digital early and sincerely.

    Not really true at all. Alt weeklies are doing worse in some ways. They have let go veteran staff, do scammy stuff like substitute ad copy for reviews (especially notorious with restaurant reviews), and are settling into an uncomfortable mediocrity.

    Even though some have successfully adapted to the Web, they are still being outflanked by social media apps.

    Some alt weeklies had been purchased by daily newspapers or by bigger “mainstream weeklies.” The LA Weekly and Village Voice are examples of this, and both are on the ropes.

    The OC Weekly does a lot of good stuff, but gets hardly any notice.

    The web only LAist tries to be edgy, but doesn’t have clear journalistic chops.

    Still, it’s good to see that some weeklies are fighting the good fight and getting recognition.

  36. 36
    Jewish Steel says:

    the prize board is made up of incumbent media dinosaurs

    Maybe those board members are trying to curry favor with their future employers?

  37. 37
    gaz says:

    @gex: I used to subscribe to our local (non-alt) daily. I did it basically to support the idea of a local paper – even if I didn’t read it myself, I felt that it should exist, and I wanted to support that.

    Unfortunately, it consists of mostly national content and syndicated content, and then some particularly sloppy “human interest” stories (especially in the weekenders) plus some local movie listings and letters to the editor – actually there was a local nutcase that always wrote in that I was glad to read. =)

    That, coupled with the fact that it went from my door to my recycle bin eventually made me cancel my subscription.

    I’d support an alt-weekly here with donations or a subscription if they offered it – but the two localish ones are basically just classified ads

  38. 38
    PeakVT says:

    @comrade scott’s agenda of rage: Seven Days VT – which tries to be statewide but is still mostly focused on Burlington – is decent. The total pop. of the Burlington region is ~160K.

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: I like John Fleck’s coverage of water issues, though I read his blog not the ABQ Journal.

  39. 39
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever found a crappy alt-weekly in any decent sized metro area.

    @comrade scott’s agenda of rage: San Diego Reader. A bought and paid tool of our local mafia Chamber of Commerce. Avoid. Tragic, thirty years ago there was nothing like it and it was excellent and desperately needed in a town where both papers were owned by the same lunatic right-wingers. But then they got bought by the wrong fucking people.

    City Beat’s been doing really good work here, though. OB Rag is still in their teething stages but also do good reporting.

  40. 40
    Raven says:

    Our own Dennis G was one of the founders of the Athens rag, the Flagpole. They do a great job and the only thing I don’t like is their columnists that insist on bolding passages in their articles so the dumb ass readers know what is important.

  41. 41
    gaz says:

    @Raven: The Stranger tends to use illustrations for that. What’s that say about seattle? =) heh =P

    (just a friendly ribbing of the Stranger, and seattle denizens, whom for the most part I quite like)

  42. 42
    Birthmarker says:

    Birmingham AL has a great alt called The Weld. They did a great article about the constituents of Shad “Can’t pay teachers much because the right people won’t be attracted to the job” McGill.

    Then they did a great story about the Greeks who immigrated to Birmingham a hundred years ago, and the uproar it caused with the nativists. Now the descendants run yummy restaurants.

    Birmingham actually has a bit of Foodie creds.

  43. 43
    Origuy says:

    @Cassidy: Size is probably because of standard sizes for paper and paperboxes. San Jose had two weeklies for a while, Metro and Wave. Metro is a pretty good alt-weekly, Wave was more of an entertainment guide. It had a glossy cover and a lot more color ads. They started printing it in the same form factor as the Metro, and then made it smaller. They didn’t accept personals or escort ads. Eventually they went to bi-weekly, then stopped altogether. Medical marijuana has been a godsend for Metro; they run about 8 pages of ads.

  44. 44
    The prophet Nostradumbass says:

    @Cassidy: Quite a few of the “alt” weeklies are owned by Village Voice Media. The “New Times” chain bought the Voice and adopted its name as their corporate identity. They’re the reason why Seattle Weekly (and LA Weekly, and SF Weekly) are so terrible.

  45. 45
    uptown says:

    Our local homeless distributed paper, “Real Change“, has gotten better as well. More shared content with other papers like them and better coverage of local issues.

  46. 46
    gaz says:

    @uptown: that’s still around? glad to hear it has improved.

  47. 47
    Mnemosyne says:

    @The prophet Nostradumbass:

    The LA Weekly always sucked. I used to love the Reader, but it got gobbled up by the New Times even before the Weekly did.

  48. 48
    Bago says:

    @gaz: Gah! You know about skagit county weeklies? Do I know you?

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